Tag Archives | Audio

An Antidote for Blaring TV Commercials

Last Gadget Standing nominee: Gefen Auto Volume Stabilizer

Price: $299

Ever notice how TV commercials and movie trailers are decibels louder than the shows? If so, you’ll appreciate Gefen’s use of Dolby Volume Technology to level the volume on TV programs and commercials for a consistent audio experience. A simple solution for home entertainment systems, this tiny device automatically equalizes audio from different sources so everything is heard at the same audio levels. Channel surfers will appreciate the stability.  And music listeners will enjoy a consistent level of volume when enjoying random CDs.  The Auto Volume Stabilizer incorporates Dolby 5.1 digital decoding and converting to 2-channel audio. It also supports both digital (TOSlink; S/PDIF) and analog (L/R) audio formats. It will work with most popular home entertainment devices on the market, including television sets, A/V receivers, CD players, DVD players and more. Multiple audio sources can be connected at the same time, and accessed with the included IR remote or a tiny selector on the device used to switch between sources.


Klipsch’s Apple-Friendly Headset

Klipsch HeadsetWhen Apple released the voice-controlled third-generation iPod Shuffle back in March, lots of folks understandably fixated on the fact that Apple had moved the controls to the earbud cord, making it impossible to use the Shuffle with third-party headsets. Apple said that it would license the design to other headset manufacturers. And today, Klipsch announced the Image S4i headset, which sports a microphone and the on-cord buttons needed to control the Shuffle. Available in August, it’ll sell for $99.99–twenty-one bucks more than the Shuffle itself. I’d love to know how many Shuffle owners there are out there who are serious enough about sound to invest more in a headset than they did in their audio player.

Of course, Klipsch says the S4i provides a superior experience–it’s got sound-isolating earbuds and a 360-degree microphone, among other features. And the headset also works with some fancier Apple products: the iPhone 3GS, second generation iPod touch, fourth generation iPod Nano, and the iPod Classic 120GB.


Livespeakr: Little Big Speakers for the iPhone

LivespeakrThere’s a surging sea of portable speakers out there for iPods, but ones designed to work well with iPhones are a rarer breed. Which is why I’m impressed with DGA’s Livespeakr, a collapsible, battery-powered speaker setup that was designed with the iPhone in mind and which delivers very good sound quality considering its cost ($99 list in black or white versions; $85 at the Livespeakr site) and size.

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The Zune HD is Only HD to a Point

The term “HD” is often more about marketing than it is about accurately describing a product’s capabilities. Microsoft’s upcoming Zune HD is the latest example of that trend. The Zune HD looks like it will delivera compelling evolution over the previous-generation Zunes, with features including a touch-screen interface and a widescreen 480-by-272 OLED display. But while it will also offer HD video output and HD radio reception, it will fall short in delivering genuine HD playback.

The Zune’s OLED display is a 480-by-272 widescreen, which doesn’t meet anybody’s definition of HD. It’s only when you use a premium HDMI A/V docking station to output video to an HDTV that you get high definition–720p, to be exact.

That’s as far as its HD support goes. High definition video requires a minimum of 720-pixel resolution, and high definition audio is 24-bit; the Zune HD’s built-in playback falls short on both counts. A Microsoft spokesperson said that the company does not have any details to share regarding audio tracks or specific video files.

Microsoft is not alone in its marketing practices. “My daughter’s Sony VAIO has a sticker that says ‘Full HD’ [which suggests 1080p]. But the screen resolution is 1280 x 800. The “Full HD” comes from connecting the computer by HDMI to a monitor or TV,” said Joe Wilcox, an independent technology analyst.

While OLED screens deliver sharp colors and deep blacks–one benedit of HD–those advantages are almost entirely lost on a small screen with low resolution. And video marketplaces sometimes decrease the size of downloads by limiting black levels and other palette-related settings, said Matt Hargett, a noted technology author.

Microsoft could compensate for the Zune’s lack of HD video playback with 24-bit audio, Hargett said. Microsoft obtained the rights to the HDCD format in 2000. “Having 24-bit audio would be a great step forward.”

CDs introduced 16-bit lossless audio almost 30 years ago; High Definition Compatible Digital (HDCD), a 24-bit audio format, is 20 years old; and DTS (Digital Theater System), a format used in DVDs and other media, has provided 24-bit lossy audio for over 15 years.

Despite these decades-older technologies, the Zune HD device and marketplace doesn’t appear capable to deliver a better audio experience.

“By adding the “HD” to the name, [Microsoft] is trying to secure a market who appreciates the details, but that same market will likely reject the product if it doesn’t deliver a real HD experience beyond the “HD Radio”, which isn’t really HD at all,” said Hargett. HD Radio’s quality “is below what CDs, Apple Lossless, and FLAC downloads already deliver consumers for years. Does that really count as HD? I don’t think so,” Hargett quipped.


These Speakers Sound Great. And They’re…Invisible!

Emo LabsI had two hands-down favorites at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show. One of them was the one that was everybody’s favorite: Palm’s upcoming Pre phone. The other was a little-known technology which I saw demoed in a private preview. It’s from a Boston-area startup called Emo Labs, and it’s a new technology for loudspeakers that called Edge Motion. Emo says that Edge Motion lets it build “invisible loudspeakers” for incorporation into TVs, computer displays, notebooks, and another devices with screens–and that its technology is the first all-new development in speaker design in decades. Judging from the sneak peek I saw, that isn’t hype.

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